Buying a car can be an intimidating experience. Unfortunately, it is also all too easy to get tricked into spending more than you had anticipated or purchasing or leasing a car you are not entirely happy with. Many car dealerships will do whatever it takes to get prospective buyers in their lobby, and the unfortunate reality is many are not above using subtle and effective tricks in the process.

It is helpful to understand the more common car dealership tricks a salesperson may try during the buying experience. This allows you to decide if buying is right for you or if you should spend your time and money making upgrades to your current vehicle. If you decide to buy, knowing the more common tricks can help you properly prepare and know how to counter when you come across a shady selling technique. 

The classic bait and switch technique

As mentioned, the first goal a car dealership has is to get you in the door. Once you are at the dealership, they trust that they can convince you to purchase. One shady (and illegal in many states) technique that a dealership may try is referred to as bait and switch.

Bait and switch is the act of advertising or telling a prospective buyer about an incredibly good deal without actually being able to offer the deal. For example, you may see an offer for a new vehicle that meets your needs advertised for an incredible price — a deal that is simply too good to pass up. When you arrive at the dealership, however, they tell you the car has already sold or is not available, and then transition into showing you into other vehicles. 

The bait and switch is hard to prove, and some dealerships may be telling the truth if they say the car is already sold or not available for other reasons. However, you should certainly be skeptical if this situation presents itself. One way to address this concern is to ask follow-up questions about the vehicle, asking for specifics on why it is still advertised. If you are not satisfied with the answer, then strongly consider walking away. 

The advertisement vs. reality dilemma

Another problem you might run into at a dealership is blatant misleading or false advertising. The fact is advertising is by its very nature designed to show the car in the best possible way, but there are times when a car dealership may use an image of a different (and newer) car as an advertisement. 

They may also include features of the car in the description that the car does not actually have, such as a certain type of interior, brand new tires or lower mileage than the car has. If the car you see at the dealership does not closely resemble the car you saw in the advertisement, then you may be a victim of an old-fashioned car dealership trick.

This is not to say you should not purchase the car if there is a minor discrepancy between the advertisement and the actual car, but it is a huge red flag that should be taken into strong consideration before purchasing.   

Added fees that don’t make any sense

Another trick you may run into during the car buying process is added fees, particularly those that seemingly have no practical purpose. Car dealerships may label these bogus fees under various different names, such as an advertising fee, paint protection fee, and the famous processing fee. Although the dealer may state different reasons for the charges, it is obvious that the main purpose is to squeeze more money out of you. 

The good news is you can negotiate fees if you are aware enough to look for the ones that have no relevance to the sale and are willing to bring it up before closing. While some fees may have a legitimate purpose, any that do not seem to make sense, especially if the dealer does not give an adequate description of what the fee is for, can likely be negotiated away. 

“See dealer for details” fine print

Very often “great deals” are not really great deals. For example, offers such as free oil changes for 24 months typically come with many different conditions. This is a small example, but the stipulations placed in contracts can be much more concerning. 

You have likely heard the phrases “read the fine print” or “the devil is in the details.” These terms have never been more true than while purchasing a new car. Many dealerships want the buyer to sign quickly, so they quickly run through the paperwork in hopes you skip over any details you may not find all too pleasant. 

Although it may not be the most enjoyable experience, it can certainly pay off to take half an hour and read through all of the paperwork before signing each page. This ensures you do not miss any crucial information about the purchase. If there are certain parts of the paperwork that do not seem to make sense or may cause significant concern, be sure to ask for clarification and negotiate more favorable terms if necessary. If all else fails, walking away may be the best option. 

Discussing in terms of the monthly payment

The fact is car buying is expensive. You have to deal with the down payment, various dealership fees and will have a monthly payment (unless you pay in full upon purchase). Dealerships realize how expensive car buying is, and they will talk in terms of monthly payments to make it seem less, especially if they are trying to sell you additional features. 

For example, a dealership may refer to an added feature of the car as “only $30 more each month,” but this can add up over time and will inevitably cost you thousands. You can address this concern by understanding the lingo a dealer may use in advance and view the car buying process with more of a realistic and long-term mindset. 

Aaron Westbury
Aaron is a content writer with a passion for cars. He enjoys learning new things and loves to share what he learns with others. Aaron also has a Bachelor's in English and years of experience as a writer, and he constantly seeks to improve and make his writing more informative and helpful for readers. Although a writer by day, Aaron enjoys his free time by getting outdoors and staying active anyway he can.

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    1. The bait and switch is all too common. Since most people start their car search online, you would think that keeping those listings updated would be a high priority, yet they always claim they haven’t updated the listings. I have also noticed there always seems to be a similar, but more expensive car to the one I saw online and is no longer available. It is obvious what they are doing. Car shopping can be very time consuming, so it is always important to me to know what I am going to look at. I would not blindly go to a dealership without viewing my options online. And I always call before to make sure it is still available. If they say it is not and mention other cars that are not yet listed, it can be a red flag.

    2. The only way to avoid Sneaky Car Dealership Tricks is to not buy a new car

    3. I find its always best to start online and if you can find it email the online sales department of the dealership, they usually have more negotiating room on the cars because they know they are competing with the whole country. But you still need to read everything and be cautious because they will still try to sell you things you don’t need and add extra fees.

    4. There is no point in most of the extra services provided when you finance a car. You should only care about gap insurance and getting the best possible price on the vehicle itself. Focus on the total amount, and calculate the monthly payment once the best deal possible is given. Tell the salesman you would rather not play their game of “four square”. Once you see the sheet they show you for monthly payments you will know exactly what I am referring to.

    5. My last 4 cars/truck were purchased virtually. Everything was done via e-mail and over the phone and then delivered directly to my house. I don’t know how people spend hours waiting around in a dealership!

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